Orange look to get a step closer to bowl eligibility when they host the struggling Tar Heels
North Carolina and Syracuse have been members of the same conference for more than five seasons. But thanks to division schedules and locked-in crossover rivals, they have never battled on the football field as ACC programs.
That changes this Saturday as the Tar Heels head to the Carrier Dome to square off against the 4-2 Orange. Syracuse had a much-needed open date last weekend after dropping consecutive heartbreakers to Clemson and Pittsburgh. Carolina fell to 1-4 with an equally tough loss to Virginia Tech in which the Tar Heels led for much of the game.
The two programs played four times between 1995 and 2003, with each team winning the two games on its home field.
North Carolina at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 12:20 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Raycom
Spread: Syracuse -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Eric Dungey bounce back?
The Syracuse quarterback is a veteran who has had plenty of ups and downs in his career. He’s also had a good start to his senior season. But the Pittsburgh game was not his finest performance. He was just 18-of-38 passing and turned the ball over three times. The final turnover is the one that Orange fans will remember most, a floater in overtime that was picked off by Pitt’s Therran Coleman. Backup Tommy DeVito is a much-hyped prospect, but this is Dungey’s team, and Syracuse needs him to be better.
2. UNC running game vs. Syracuse rush defense
In Michael Carter and Jordon Brown, North Carolina has two running backs who have had their moments. Against Virginia Tech, it was Carter’s turn, as the sophomore from Navarre, Fla., rushed for a career-high 165 yards. Against Syracuse, the potential is there for more rushing yardage as the Orange surrendered 293 yards to Clemson and 265 more the next week to Pitt. With Carolina struggling to find rhythm in the passing game, establishing an effective ground attack will be imperative.
3. North Carolina maintaining possessions
Syracuse is first in the ACC in turnover margin. North Carolina is at the bottom of the league in that category and going into the Virginia Tech game was last nationally as well. The Heels are also 13th in the league in third-down conversions at 32 percent. The Orange are second in third-down defense. North Carolina has to find a way to flip the script, because if the Heels lose the turnover battle and can’t convert third downs, this will be an easy Syracuse victory.
North Carolina had 16 days to recover from the beatdown it received from Miami on Sept. 27, and the Heels responded with a valiant effort in defeat against Virginia Tech. If not for a Carter fumble as he was going in for the clinching score (the story of North Carolina’s season), the Heels would have taken down the Hokies. Carolina needs some positive energy, because it is up against a Syracuse squad that is rested and ready after two difficult-to-stomach losses. Along with the disturbing turnover and third-down stats, UNC is 0-3 on the road this season and has lost the last two by very wide margins. On the other side, the Orange are unbeaten at the Dome and haven’t really been tested. They won’t be this Saturday, either, as Syracuse will cruise to another comfortable victory.
Prediction: Syracuse 34, North Carolina 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.